The dreaded mom roles have come a long way from the days when the Donna Reeds suited up in heels and pearls as they nurtured their families in between cooking and cleaning.
Almost half of the actresses nominated for Emmys this year play moms navigating through a difficult real world that includes coping with drug addiction, mental illness, shattered lives, conventional constraints and repressed ambitions.
Julie Bowen, nominated for her supporting role in “Modern Family,” says looking at the nominees, there’s an amazing range in both the drama and comedy categories for realistic portrayals of mothers that hasn’t been seen in the past.
“It’s no longer mom as the domestic ruler. TV is fleshing out the moms more,” says Bowen. “The reality is when you start mining real life, you find women like (my character) Claire who are overeducated, out of the workplace and slammed in a house with kids. It’s like the madwoman in the attic. Something is going to happen there.”
Some of the changes in the way the roles are written can be chalked up to an increased number of women in the writing rooms, although many of the shows for which these actresses have been nominated, such as “Modern Family” and “Friday Night Lights,” have a strong male writing presence.
Often, it can be a challenge fighting against the traditional structure of a character, especially on a drama where mom is married to a small-town football coach. “Friday Night Lights” star Connie Britton admits she was reluctant at first to join a show that on the surface seemed to offer little more than a wallflower vantage point.
“It’s easy to fall into the more stereotypical TV mom territory with this role, but I have been very vehement about not letting that happen. I have long and often impassioned conversations about it,” Britton says. “I grew up in a small southern town, and I know the complexities of these women’s lives.”
Britton says playing Tami has been immensely rewarding, in contrast to her experience playing the same character in the movie version. Producer Peter Berg promised her that if she took on the TV role, he would allow her to show all the different layers of her character.
“He talked me into playing Tami, and he really committed to his word,” Britton says. “He told me he gave me a blood oath, and he did.”
Many of the nominated actresses bring their own perspective not only as women but as mothers to their roles. For a decade, “Nurse Jackie” star Edie Falco played a mom on “The Sopranos,” but she says becoming a mom after that experience has helped her in the role of a nurse addicted to pain killers.
“I don’t think you have to be a mother to play one or to write about one. You just have to have a mother to understand the complexities of it,” Falco says. “But now that I have a child, there’s an added dimension in my life that colors my portrayal. I’m hard-pressed to say exactly how, but it is there in the little flavors of the performance.”
Lead Actress – Comedy | Lead Actress – Drama | Supporting Actress – Comedy | Supporting Actress – Drama | Lead Actress – Mini/Movie
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